Hello all again! I am back with more exciting endeavours in Thetford, the Fens and beyond. So with lots to get through let’s get straight in!
Last week at Ancient House was very busy week with two big events, the first being the opening of our Thetford and the Great War exhibition part two. It was held on 11th November and was officially opened by Thetford Mayor Sylvia Armes, after the Thetford Royal British Legion standard bearers walked down from the war memorial in the marketplace. It really was a pleasure to see the standards, and it was great to talk to Thetford people about their memories of the war and items in the exhibition.
The second event was the launch of local historian David Osborne’s book ‘A Small Fragment of the Great War’ which was a great success with books flying off the shelves. A great thank you to David for signing copies as well. The launch was also attended by relatives of Thetford soldiers who are explored in the book and in the exhibition, so it was great to hear their family wartime memories. As well as this, one of the items in the exhibition is David’s grandfather’s wartime diary – which officially he should never have made – that David transcribed as a boy. It really is fascinating and gives an amazing insight into a soldiers experience during the period, so come and see it if you’re in the area! Both events were part of the Thetford Remembers town project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and went very successfully with everyone enjoying the community atmosphere and remembering everyone’s connections to the Great War. Well done to all involved!
On the learning side of things, we’ve got the next Mini-Museum club this Thursday, with this month’s theme of Christmas. That means Christmassy crafts and songs, including the 12 days of Christmas – already preparing my voice! As well as this, the Teenage History Club are well underway with their event for Kids in Museums Takeover Day this year; a Murder Mystery! It is set in 1916 and involves a blunt object and plenty of suspicion. The teenagers have spent the last three weeks with Storyteller Dave Tong to help perform their stories and really get into character. I’m positive it’s going to be fantastic with plenty of secrets and shock for all.
For the Fenland side of things, as part of my traineeship for the project I was able to apply for a small amount of funding to do an event during the October half term. This went through successfully and plans for the ‘Frightening Fens’ came together! The family drop-in event included a storyteller regaling visitors with spooky goings on, a Fen wise woman with strange remedies, and an artist making ‘dead hands’ out of various materials. Other activities were Fen museum object handling, make your own lantern, plus all the children received a wooden amulet on which they could draw their own lucky symbol for protection. By the end of the day lots of people were walking around with arms full of amulets, dead hands, lanterns plus huge grins! Before the half term the event was also featured in two local papers and ‘what’s on’ sections, which felt fantastic knowing that after composing my first ever press release, the writing training I had was a success! Families and visitors thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and the freelancers said they had a great day too – despite a last minute illness and slight panic from me, but it’s all a learning experience! Personally speaking, it was a great day, and brilliant practice to organise a whole event from start to finish.
Moreover, last week was the Fen Youth Film Fest consisting of two showings of short films created by young people with the Fenland Lives & Land Project. It took place in the grand Kings Lynn town hall, and with the afternoon showing being seen by two local school groups there were plenty of laughs all around. The films were inspired by different aspects and topics of the fens, ranging from drainage to folk tales. The evening showing included a special premiere of the film Cathead – a surreal comic adventure created by the Lynn Youth Forum. Their brief was to create a film inspired by an object in the museum, and the chosen object was a cat head prototype from one of Frederick Savage’s carousel gallopers. The film the Forum made is truly surreal, but completely creative and a great example of the work young people can do. Two of the film makers are also now studying media at college!
Alongside my responsibilities at the Museum and for the project I’ve been able to take part in various other training sessions and experience. My most recent was helping with the collections at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, with an audit being undertaken over the winter months. I hadn’t been into the Superstores based on site before, and it was truly fascinating – I was also able to see some of the Ancient House collections that are stored there. The sheer variety and unique nature of objects in the Norfolk Museum Service was an eye-opener, and really gave me a behind the scenes look. One day was spent working with volunteers to record a shelf of leather horse harnesses, and move them to another section to make space for incoming collections from another NMS site. I have done some collections experience before but it was really great to get back into the world of collections care and recording. One very interesting object was a large rope labelled ‘rope for weighing bullock carcass’ – that is one thing I love about museum objects, you really do wonder about the stories behind them! I also was able to help with getting objects from the furniture and painting store ready to go into the freezer, which meant cleaning and wrapping each one individually and ensuring each was labelled. I had heard so much about putting objects into the freezer to get rid of nasty bugs, so it was great to be part of the process, and as it is continuing into the new year I’m sure I will be back to help out!
Alongside all of these exciting ventures, I am also taking part in the GEM Foundation Course for Museum Learning which began in October. It consists of three two-day training sessions in London museums with nine other participants, plus an assigned mentor, a learning log to keep up to date with, and a work based assignment. For my assignment I have decided to attempt a pilot offer in January of a Girl Guide sleepover in the museum, combined with an Arts Award Discover level qualification, and present the process in a case study. I know it is a big feat but I really believe Girl Guiding UK is an untapped market, and being a Guide Leader in training and involved in Guiding all my life, it really is a key group that could easily do Arts Award if only given the chance. Also there really is something extraordinary about a Museum out of hours, and I trust this will be a key element of the offer. Hopefully we’ll be able to give some behind the scenes exploring and even a special look into our cellar!
So with Christmas fast approaching it’s time to really get into the spirit of things. I’m currently researching some Christmassy Edwardian food to have on our open range as part of the big Thetford Lights On event this Friday 28th, when the whole museum will be open from five to nine o’clock with 1914 Edwardian games, food, costumes, and of course Christmas cheer! Then before we know it, it will be January – I can’t believe how fast time is going – but I’m sure they’ll be even more exciting adventures next year!
Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year!!
Heritage Learning Trainee, Ancient House and Fenland Lives & Land Project.